One lonely night when I was fifteen, I sat on my bed, surrounded by the few clothes that I owned. As I tried on each of my “outfits”, I looked at my image in the mirror and rated myself on a scale of one to ten. I never scored myself above three. I felt worthless. For me, this was an exercise in assigning my value to society. Fortunately, a few hours later that night, I pondered why I was doing this to degrade myself. I snapped out of it in that moment. For how much longer was I going to value myself based on my family’s material circumstances, which I could do little to change at that time? For how much longer was I going to brood over my situation?
Lead Us Today founder and CEO, Dalumuzi Mhlanga
That night, I vowed to live life based on what I could contribute to the world and not on what value I perceived to be projected onto me by others.
This experience has inspired me to empower young people to view themselves as possessing the agency and responsibility to make a difference in their communities instead of brooding over their material, social or political circumstances. I consider this to be particularly important in my country, Zimbabwe, as young people are overwhelmed by a 95% unemployment rate and an unstable political environment, which have forced one in four Zimbabweans to live outside the country. I am intent on addressing the despair, despondency and lack of personal and collective responsibility among young people to address their own challenges and those of their communities in Zimbabwe.
This issue is particularly important for three main reasons: First, in Zimbabwe and Africa, there is need for interventions that address both the immediate needs of communities (such as the need for clean water) and the critical long-term need for building Africans’ capacity to address their immediate challenges. This long-term need is built on the assumption that capacity can be built; that is, Africans can assume and exercise responsibility in addressing their own challenges – it is important that Africans know that. I also believe that democratization cannot be achieved only through setting up mechanisms and institutions such as elections and parliament. Equally important, citizens need to actively participate in determining their livelihoods through active civic engagement. Unless young people believe that they can assume and exercise their responsibilities in shaping a democratic society invested in building its capacity for future progress, then the development of Africa is somewhat doomed. This is why addressing young people’s senses of despair, despondency and lack of responsibility is important.